Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Technically, the TV arm of the American Broadcasting Company signed on in 1948, but it was the network's merger with United Paramount Theaters which enabled it to expand from a regional to a national hookup in 1953. Thus, it was altogether fitting that the three-hour special ABC's 50th Anniversary was seen on May 19, 2003. A daunting number of ABC stars, past and present, were on hand for this self-congratulatory extravaganza, which featured brief film and video clips from the network's greatest achievements -- with time left over for the requisite foul-ups, bleeps, and blunders (notably a reel of hilarious news-broadcast outtakes). Perhaps out of concern that 21st century audiences would not relate to the "Golden Age" of television, the special was top-heavy with relatively recent, full-color program highlights, with only a cursory nod to such vintage black-and-white ABC efforts as Leave It to Beaver and Maverick. Also, the producers apparently had some rather curious priorities, else why was more time given to "Urkel" on Family Matters than to the TV output of producer Walt Disney (whose Disneyland and The Mickey Mouse Club, after all, put the fledgling ABC on the map)? Still, the special satisfied as an entertaining thumbnail history of the network, emphasizing such ABC innovations as Monday Night Football and the blockbuster miniseries Roots, and the preeminence of the network's daytime drama output under the aegis of producer Agnes Nixon (yes, the wedding of Luke and Laura on General Hospital was trotted out again). As a bonus, the program featured brief but poignant cast reunions for such series as Welcome Back, Kotter, The Love Boat, The Mod Squad, and Laverne & Shirley. ABC's 50th Anniversary was appropriately capped with a roundup of "farewells," utilizing clips from the final episodes of such programs as Happy Days and Barney Miller and the last appearances of such series regulars as Jimmy Smits on NYPD Blue and Michael J. Fox on Spin City.